Posted by: atowhee | December 16, 2017



At 7AM I was scanning the nearly dark surface of the lake in Salem’s Gateway Park.  I could see the shapes of ducks and geese but not be sure what I was seeing.  By 730 AM there was enough daylight to discern Hooded and Common Mergansers, Bufflehead, four gulls species, a flotilla of coots, one landing party of cormorants who dropped out of the sky. By 8AM I had joined the rest of our area birding team in a government parking lot.  Somebody noticed a new bird had joined the local scrub-jays in the treetops along the edge of the lot–it was our first and only Merlin of the day.  Then he flew over our heads to illustrate his speed and pointy wings.

SALEM CBC AREA #1, Marion, Oregon, US
Dec 16, 2017 7:00 AM – 2:45 PM.  59 species (+2 other taxa)

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  X     thousands
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)  X
Gadwall (Mareca strepera)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  X
Mallard (Domestic type) (Anas platyrhynchos (Domestic type))  X
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)  4
Green-winged Teal (American) (Anas crecca carolinensis)  X
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)  X
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  X
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  X
Common Merganser (North American) (Mergus merganser americanus)  X
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  X
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  2
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)  1
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  X
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  X
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  X
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  X
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  3
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)  1
Mew Gull (Larus canus)  1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  X
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  1
California Gull (Larus californicus)  X
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  X
Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)  X
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid) (Larus occidentalis x glaucescens)  X
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  X
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  1
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  X
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) (Colaptes auratus [cafer Group])  X
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  X
Merlin (Falco columbarius)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  X
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  X
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)  X
Bushtit (Pacific) (Psaltriparus minimus [minimus Group])  X
White-breasted Nuthatch (Pacific) (Sitta carolinensis aculeata/alexandrae)  1
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)  2
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  4
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  1     including 0ne with white tail feathers
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1
Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)  1
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) (Junco hyemalis [oreganus Group])  X
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)  X
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  X
Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)  1
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  X
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  X
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)  X

Posted by: atowhee | December 15, 2017


Recently carried an opinion piece by an economist saying we should not worry about reducing population growth.  Click here to see his piece.

My one pertinent comment–the writer is an economist and they tend to follow the numbers of dollars with little or no concern abut what is happening to other creatures on the planet.  Nobody loses and earnings when a beetle or fish goes extinct, so who cares.  Does this economist imagine there’ll be no political or social cost when millions of future refugees are flooded out of their coastal  homes as the sea level inexorably rise?

More relevant are these comments from my friend, Mike Riess, who has studied a number of fields including business management, energy resources and human nature.  He and I have been friends since we were in the Third Grade, a thousand years and a zillion miles ago.  Here are his incisive comments are why he disagrees with the economist:

Here is a short list:

 1. Malthus’s original observation, that human population can grow faster than food production, remains valid.  Constantly increasing population is the threat.  Population reproduction rates are dependent on economy and culture.  Where culture is patriarchal, it is hard to convince the heads-of-household that their wife (or wives) should stop pumping out kids.  Have you ever tried to convince a male Ultra-Orthodox Jew, or male Muslim in an Islamic culture, or an African Bwana, that he should stop producing children?  A part of the world has achieved below replacement rate, because of economic and cultural change – women have control of their fertility, and the cost of having children is higher than the benefits.  But most of Africa, the Middle East, and South America/Middle America/Mexico, have NOT gotten there.  Because overpopulation produces poverty, many are not likely to get there soon.  Only those that are industrialized have a hope of change (e.g. South Africa), and they are producing more pollution.

2. The author claims to be an expert on the productivity of a piece of land.  Maybe so.  But there are other limiting factors that are dropping into place – fresh water and weather.  Climate change is real, it is happening now, and none of the efforts to mitigate it (such as the Paris accords) will prevent it from continuing to the end of this century.  Right now we have drought (from northeast India westward to the Mediterranean, in the United States southwest, in northeast and southcentral Africa, Australia, and in northwest China).  Everywhere aquifers are being exhausted1, glaciers are retreating, and snow pack is thinning.  By the end of this century, we will have flooding of coastal cities.

3. The history of humanity is that when populations approach the carrying capacity of their environments, violence ensues, social order is broken, and elites are brought down.  This is what is happening in the portions of the Mideast and Africa right now, and is likely to get worse (there are four genocidal wars in progress).  This is our nature, and it is Nature’s way of telling us that there are too many of us.

4. The article smacks of “if I am dictator of the world” thinking.  The author believes himself to be a rational man in possession of the facts.  If people will just do what he tells them to do, everything will be fine.  Sadly, humanity is not sufficiently politically coherent at a global level for any such scheme to work.  As individuals, as tribes, as nations, we will always act as what we think is our best interest.  When competition for resources increases, we restrict who we consider “us,” and expand those we consider “them.”

In second email, Mike added: I would add that Europe needs to isolate itself in some way from Mid-East and African refugees.  The refugees coming across the Mediterranean are Sub-Saharan Africans who used to be blocked by Libya, when it was a functioning nation.   What is sad about this is that the refugees are often the best people from the population, the ones who realized it was time to get out, and had the guts to try it.  The problem for us, and the Europeans, is how do you assimilate them?  Particularly when they do not want to be assimilated.

 1There appears to be an untapped aquifer beneath the Sahara.  It is, nonetheless, a finite resource.

Posted by: atowhee | December 13, 2017


San Francisco, December, 2017

Once they were hailed as “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”  Judy Irving’s documentary of that name traced their early history in San Francisco.  More than a decade later there are now several parrot flocks scattered across San Francisco.
This species is native to the Andes in southern Ecuador and northern Peru.  The first birds in the flock had been caught in the wild there and imported as they all wore quarantine bands.  They were first noticed in San Francisco in the early 1990s. There may have been only a handful, a small gene pool to begin with. The original birds were all Psittacara erythrogenys, Red-masked conure. In 1995 a single female Mitred Conure, Aratinga mitrat, joined the flock.  She mated for several years and raised hybrid young with her mate.  Their off-spring were also fertile and so those mitred genes were infused into the flock’s genetic diversity. There was at least one long-lived Blue-headed Conure in the flock but there is no evidence that bird ever mated.  Much of what we know of the flock’s early years we owe to Mark Bittner who befriended and studied the birds in their exotic, new home. In the wild the two species do not overlap so this is a new hybrid.
I remember talking with Mark Bittner around 2000.  He explained how many of the first youngsters would sicken and die before they matured.  Now the flock is successfully raising numerous clutches each summer.  The individuals who were susceptible to the endemic pox and fevers of San Francisco birdlife have died off.  The healthy, resistant individuals may now live up to fifteen years or so, often raising a family each summer.  Nature has severely culled the weaknesses from the parrots’ gene pool.
It could be very informative to have information about these flocks and their genetic make-up.  With climate change putting stress on all current ecosystems and species it could be instructive to see how these birds differ from those in Latin America.  What adaptations have they made over three decades in San Francisco?  Recent research in the Galapagos shows that new finch species can evolved there in just a few years.  Are the San Francisco parrots now a new species or sub-species?  How much mitred genetic character persists?  Are there other species represented in the gene pool?
The native population in Latin America is not considered to be of concern.  Could these California birds ever be used to re-populate their ancestors’ former range if the need arises?  We in North America have far more House Sparrows than you can find in Britain.  New Zealand has a healthy population of Goldhammers while they have become scarce back on their native grasslands of Europe
There is no dependable estimate of the parrots’ San Francisco population now. The 2016 Christmas Bird Count had a total of 275, but there is no way to sort out which flocks might have been counted more than once. The skies and parks of San Francisco are often filled with the swirling green flocks and their urgent clarion calls. Recently we spent time with friends who live in the Sunset District.  Their home is at the east end of Quintara where 14th Avenue becomes a narrow alley.  They are just downhill from Golden Gate Heights Park.  Their local parrot flock hangs out near the Muni turnaround and in the trees of the steep slope that drops down toward the Pacific to the west.  The parrots also move in and out of the mature Monterey Cypress that crown the park on the peak.
Researching these birds should not be difficult.  Feathers and feces would be easy to collect.  They are not secretive so any population or breeding studies would require only time and attention.  In some cases private land owners would need to cooperate as well.
How far will they expand?  Will some brave parrots cross the waters? Could they spread to the forests around Mt. Tam?  Will some hopscotch across YBI to Emeryville and beyond? I can imagine their glee at finding the arboretum in Strawberry Canyon.  If they entered the Central Valley what could they possible make of almond groves, vineyards, rice paddies? Their most obvious route is south onto the Peninsula.  I would expect their presence could liven up a number of campuses: Oracle, Intel, Google, Apple, Cisco, Stanford.
Unlike the Collared-Doves that have spread across North America, these parrots remain confined, for now. They have persevered and now thrive in a land where they had not evolved.  They live among plants and other animals their ancestors would never have seen.  Birds from Europe, plants from Australia and South Africa.  All at sea level.  Now that climate change is altering the natural world, we humans must rise to the task of trying to manage on behalf of our fellow species wherever possible.  How these parrots won their place in San Francisco could hold a number of key insights into what other species will have to do as they confront the changes that will surround even the most sedentary plant or animal. Can we humans ameliorate the pending disasters?  The San Francisco parrots may become a model for how humans can help or enable other species to survive the coming extinction crisis.

Rapid evolution of Galapagos finches: 

I have just published my book, San Francisco’s Natural History: Sand Dunes to Streetcars. It traces the many severe changes man has wrought.  Click here for more info. It is now for sale at Green Apple Books on Clement Street.













Aratinga erythrogenys.or Psittacara erythrogenys, Red-amsked conure or parakeet.

Mitred conure, Aratinga mitrata…in 1995

Parrots FAQ:

Pelican Media, producer of parrot and brown pelican docs:
1736 Stockton Street, Suite 2
San Francisco, CA 94133   


Posted by: atowhee | December 12, 2017


Amtrak line, Contra Costa County, California, US
Dec 7, 2017 7:00 AM – 7:40AM    30.0 mile(s)
Comments:     good bayshore viewing between Martinez and Albany
25 species

American Wigeon (Mareca americana)  X
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)  X
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  X
Common Loon (Gavia immer)  X
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)  X
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  X
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  X
Great Egret (American) (Ardea alba egretta)  X
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)  X
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  X
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)  X
Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)  X
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)  1
Willet (Western) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)  30
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)  1     clearly seen, flying with white wing patches evident in good light
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  X
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  X
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  X
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  9
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)  X
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  X


I have just published a  book on this topic, tracing three centuries of intensive change.  Book also looks at what climate change is doing and may do. Click here for further information.

Posted by: atowhee | December 10, 2017


Is this bird leucistic or more yellowish in tone?  Anyway, this Acorn Woodpecker has unusual plumage.  These images were captured in Ashland by Emmalisa Whalley, an avid Jackson County birder. Ashland has several resident Acorn Woodpecker colonies inside the city limits.DSCN2221RSCN2202This second image is a marvelous shot comparing the unusual bird with the usual red-headed individual.
Here’s what the species account on Birds of North America Online has to say: “Aberrant Plumages.   Nonmelanic leucism, or partial albinism, occurs at a frequency of about 0.1% (WDK). More rarely, individuals in California have been recorded with golden yellow, rather than red, crowns (WDK).”   So that makes this bird one of a thousand!  Thanks, Emmalisa.

Posted by: atowhee | December 10, 2017


Dec. 10:

It was cold, dry and sunny today.  And common birds were doing common things, energetically.  In one fescue field about a mile north of McMinnville along Westside Road there were a couple hundred crows in and flying around that field.  None were seen anywhere else along a five-mile stretch of highway.  What was afoot in that field besides the crows?cro2-magnumcro-magnum

The crows took flight as soon as they saw me out of the car…can’t trust those predatory hominids.

In wet, forested Rotary Park, there were both kinds of kinglets as you can expect in this season. They were foraging along with a creeper and chickadees in the sun-warmed trees facing the sun which was low in the southwestern sky by 2PM.  I managed a few marginal images as proof of their flighty presence.  I kept seeing a small, dark bird low in the dense underbrush.  Each time I expected a Pacific Wren.  Each time I got a glimpse it was simply a low-life kinglet away from his high-flying brethren.gc-rotrc-rot
Brown Creeper:bc-rot3


There were over a hundred Bufflehead on the Carlton Sewer Ponds.  About forty shovelers and a lone female Lesser Scaup.  A pair of red-tails pursuing a single…perhaps a territorial dispute connected to this courtship season for them.  They, too, took to the air when the marauding hominid appeared.  We certainly have a dangerous reputation among our fellow creatures…can’t imagine why…buff-carl

Posted by: atowhee | December 9, 2017


One of my favorite ways to bird: out a train window.  There is the frustration of not being able to stop or slow down for closer look.   There is the marvel of getting into habitat you can’t reach by car or even on foot.  This morning we were returning home from California on Amtrak and hit the Oregon border at dawn.  The train line parallels US 97 both north and south of K-Falls, but it swerves east around the short of Lake Euwana, an area that is normally inaccessible.  The north of town it runs right along the lake shore while the highway is generally further inland.
On Klamath Lake I saw Bald Eagles on the ice, on tree limbs along the mostly frozen water and in the air.  Waterbirds were mostly in small pockets of open water.

Mid-day we traveled up the Willamette Valley, adding snipe, Killdeer and Western Sandpipers to our day’s train-list.  All these sightings on private land.

Amtrak line, Klamath County, Klamath, Oregon, US
Dec 9, 2017 7:45 AM – 8:45 AM.  17 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Green-winged Teal (American) (Anas crecca carolinensis)  X
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  X
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  X
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  X
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  X
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  3
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  2
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  8
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  6
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  X
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)  20
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  15
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X

Posted by: atowhee | December 5, 2017



Today I drove from Wheatland Ferry down I-5 to Myrtle Creek and back.  There were many Red-tails, two Bald Eagles, a Harrier in Lynn County and a couple pleasant surprises.

The biggest surprise came at Cow Creek Rest Area (southbound) south of Eugene.  I was walking the dog around the perimeter and I noticed a flock of sparrows at the hedge edge on the other side of the lawn.  One was a Spotted Towhee, flashing his little white tail-lights when he flew.  I walked over to see if the rest were Golden-crowns and maybe a Fox Sparrow?  Behold, the whole flocks was Spotted Towhees!  I have seen family groups but I have never seen a flock of towhees before, of any species.

My second surprise was a Red-shouldered Hawk sitting next to a freeway ramp in north Roseburg.  It was not the freeway noise and proximity that surprised but that this hawk was sitting on a two-foot high metal utility cover watching the grass just bel0ow his perch. Red-shoulders are like Brewer’s Blackbirds and some gulls—they are able to function well amidst the noise and clutter of human congestion.  In San Francisco they populate the city parks, dining well on rats. There was one who hunted almost daily at a truck stop in southern Oregon…rats near the dumpsters, I suspect.

Other highlights: Western Bluebirds on an oak-forested hillside north of Sutherlin.  Bald Eagle in the South Umpqua River, Roseburg.  A flock of Song Sparrows (at east 20) along trail at east end of Wheatland Ferry in Willamette Mission State Park.

Two snipe, a Kestrel and a Red-breasted Sapsucker at Oak Grove Rest Area in Douglas County.  Also in Douglas, a Great Egret south of Milepost 146.  The only gulls were two different flocks of Glaucous-winged, both in the Willamette Valley.

If you drive I-5 as much as I do, you may need my book: Freeway Birding.
More information at  I have some copies for sale as well as Amazonh.

Posted by: atowhee | December 4, 2017


Click for article on research into how hummers drink.  Fascinating.

This morning at the neighbor’s hummer station, there was one bird on each nectar feeder…perhaps the 38 degree chill made them so hungry they couldn’t afford the usual flutter and chase.  Here is one feeder, a sequence of images we could call “Hummer drinks, hummer thinks.”hmmr drinxhummr drinx2hummr thinxhummr thinx2If you missed  it, click here for yesterday’s blog about human and hummer wars.

Posted by: atowhee | December 3, 2017


Sunday, Dec. 3

If we manage to survive as long as hummingbirds have will we become more like them?  Let’s hope not. Humans and hummers already share a proclivity for warfare and greed.  If we world beaters are to last I suspect it will require us humans to be more altruistic and willing to sacrifice immediate satisfaction for a chance at long-term survival.

One of our more care full and careful neighbors maintains two nectar feeders for the local hummers.  One even has a heater so it is good all winter long, whatever the weather.  Of course there is a resident hummer who “owns” both feeders.  This male Anna’s can sit sentinel in either of two trees and see both feeders at once. His alert watchfulness is particularly consistent in cold weather like today.  Yet another (or is it others?) hummer makes regular raiding sorties one or the other of the feeders.  The action and attacks are so quick I never can tell if the second bird even gets a sip.  It’s like a little bit of Afghanistan right here in our quiet neighborhood—endless warfare.anhu guardanhu guard2anhu guard3

It was cold this morning at sunrise.  The temp was below 35 degrees.  It never warmed much despite some wan winter sunshine in the early afternoon.

Better we should become more finchy. Sharing is something finches take to. Maybe not altruism exactly, but lack of overt antagonism. Ignoring the chill the siskins insisted on their communal bathing.  In siskinland ablutions are absolute.bath1bath2bath3

Nice woodpecker action at Wennerberg around noon: Wennerberg Park, Carlton, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Dec 3, 2017 11:20 AM.  7 species

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)  2
Downy Woodpecker (Pacific) (Picoides pubescens gairdnerii/turati)  1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) (Colaptes auratus [cafer Group])  2
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  2
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) (Junco hyemalis [oreganus Group])  8
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  12

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